Page Summary

  • Allowing for the later possibility of “remarriage” after divorce makes it impossible for the initial commitment of the wedding day to be complete.
  • Marriage is so serious that, once it validly takes place, neither the spouses nor any civil authorities have the power to cancel it out. “Remarriage” after divorce isn’t just wrong; it’s logically impossible.
  • When children are involved, it can be easy to overlook their severe, internal suffering. Where before their existence was built on the foundation of a single communal relationship, after a divorce they have to choose between their mother and father.


What’s wrong with divorce and remarriage?

When remarriage after divorce is a possibility, it’s impossible to make a total gift of self for life.

Ok, but what does that mean?

Melissa had wanted to live closer to her family for years, but she grew stressed whenever she thought of bringing it up with her husband Neil. She was already aware of his growing impression that he wasn’t living up to her expectations, and if she were to say that she wanted to spend more time around other loved ones, it might confirm in his mind that he wasn’t enough for her. She didn’t want him to divorce her, but the fear was preventing her from communicating honestly.

couple sitting and having a discussion
couple sitting side by side

I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.

Jesus of Nazareth, Matthew 19:9

In a world without no-fault divorce, Melissa might have had the peace of mind to know that she could talk honestly with Neil about what’s bothering her, without fearing the consequences. That openness would facilitate marriage as a union of persons. In the absence of that openness, though, neither Neil nor Melissa are free to manifest their true desires.

This is the dynamic which the availability of no-fault divorce and “remarriage” allows for. In this scenario, the consent which Neil and Melissa gave on their wedding day came with a sizeable asterisk. When they consented to enter into a union with one another and left open the possibility of “remarriage”, a total commitment wasn’t possible. In other words, if they weren’t willing to forsake everyone else, they weren’t free to make a complete gift of self.

In cases when healing cannot take place after adultery, abuse, addiction, or abandonment, it can be painfully necessary to live separately and obtain a fault-based civil divorce. Even these fault-based reasons for divorce do not erase the reality of the marriage, as if it never happened. Both the spouse who suffers at the hands of the other and the marriage itself are victims. Neither should be swept under the rug.

There are cases in which marriages appear to have happened, but only later does the couple realize that the basic conditions were never met in the first place. For example, Melissa would not have been able to consent to loving Neil if she had been coerced into it. No consent means no marriage. Likewise, if Neil had only consented to live with Melissa for a limited time, leaving open the possibility of “marrying” someone else in a few years, he couldn’t have consented to the lifelong union that marriage is. No consent, no marriage.

This doesn’t mean the marriage is ended, it means it never started in the first place. The spouses just lacked the self-awareness to understand the impediments to consent until that realization. The formal recognition of this is either called an “annulment” (in a civil context) or a “declaration of nullity” (in a Catholic context). After this is obtained, a person may validly marry someone else for the first time.

Once marriage validly takes place, neither the spouses nor any civil authorities have the ability to cancel it out. Marriage naturally ends only when one of the spouses dies. So “remarriage” after divorce isn’t just wrong, it’s logically impossible. This is why marriage is serious enough that it should never be rushed into lightly. Both spouses should be eager to develop the skills of understanding and prioritizing the other’s good, so that they put themselves in a position to succeed.

A lot of the unwillingness to accept lifelong marriage stems from a fear that it won’t work out. Nobody wants to be the captain who goes down with the ship. But consider the captain who is unwilling from the start to go down with the ship. Would we say that this captain is committed to the crew? How much more would a crew trust a captain who was willing to stay aboard until everyone else was rescued? Wouldn’t that trust have an impact on the ship’s morale, even if it never came close to sinking? If we want marriage to mean something when it goes well, we have to accept that it means something even when it doesn’t go well.

If children are involved, well-meaning adults sometimes think it’s better for the parents to divorce rather than raise the kids in a conflicted household. To be sure, these conflicts shouldn’t be brushed aside, but people can often treat the conflict as an unchangeable reality around which the family members must adjust. Neil might leave Melissa in order to avoid living with the conflict, but he might also choose to remind himself daily that it would be ok for her to be close to family. Maybe it would mean repeated blows to his ego, but it would contribute to her happiness. After all, marriage is the sort of sacrifice that means placing someone else’s good above your own preferences.1

Other people might tell the kids not to be selfish, understand what the parents are going through, and agree with the divorce. The assumption that kids are resilient obscures what no children of divorce should be expected to ignore: a basic cause of their existence—the communion of their mother and father—has been rejected by the mother and father themselves. Where before they could relate to “Mom and Dad” as a single communal source of safety and affirmation, now they have to choose one or the other. It’s just as impossible as choosing between their circulatory system and their respiratory system.

Does this condemn divorcees to a lifetime of loneliness? Numerous consequences of divorce and “remarriage” cannot be undone in life, but healing is always an option.

1) Only 5% of divorcees said their marriage couldn’t have been saved according to this study.

couple at sunset

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